Around 11.00 pm on Christmas Eve 1914, hostilities stopped along several sections of the Western Front.
The truce started in an area near Ypres.
British troops noticed that German troops had put Christmas trees on the tops of their trenches. Handmade paper lanterns, candles and lights were strung between them, illuminating them.
And they shouted greetings to the British troops in trenches near to them.
At midnight, a soldier on the Belgian side started to sing the French carol, Minuit Chretiens. When he finished singing, the sound of applause was heard rippling across the bleak battlefield, from all sides.
And soldiers in other trenches, joined in with their own carols.
A group of Germans clambered out of their trenches and made their way towards the British and French troops. They waved a bit of white fabric; a makeshift flag of truce.
As they reached the middle of no-man’s land, British troops climbed out of their area and walked over to join them.
With the help of a German soldier who could speak some English, they shared cigarettes, schnapps, food and chocolate.
Incredibly some exchanged souvenirs like their brass uniform buttons.
And of course, we’ve heard the stories of the football matches that took place between the different groups.
But this impromptu Christmas truce wasn’t approved by military leaders on any side.
The British commanders took the view that it was a dereliction of duty and several soldiers were charged and sentenced to death by firing squads. These charges were later quoshed.
But the officers weren’t living and fighting in the trenches. They didn’t have to endure the horrible conditions. It was the troops who survived the thick mud, trenchfoot and flooding with the water often up to their waists.
It had also been assumed that the war would be over by Christmas. So the troops were willing to accept the German truce and celebrate Christmas, if only for a few hours.
But how did the families and friends back home find out about these surreal incidents?
They came to light through the letters soldiers wrote to their families back home.
And details were published by The New York Times, who called it a Christmas story. And soon after, by European newspapers.
The silence across the battlefields ended during the following afternoon.
And the killing started again.
There are several great books on the Christmas Truce 1914:
The Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914.
The Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Puddings
Not a Shot was Fired: Letters from the Christmas Truce 1914.
Operation Plum Puddings
Meetings in No Man’s Land: Christmas 1914 and Fraternization in the Great War.
The Christmas Truce – 1914
Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914.
Image credits: Imperial War Museum, Pinterest, Tank Museum